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Minnesota parents told student test scores likely to drop

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota parents are being warned that their children may receive lower test scores now that the state has adopted new national benchmarks known as the Common Core State Standards.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius alerted parents in a letter late last week, Minnesota Public Radio reported Friday. She wrote that because Minnesota is using more rigorous standards to teach English arts, schools gave students more challenging tests to measure their progress in meeting the higher expectations.

That means there may be a drop in reading and writing scores when they're released this summer, she wrote. But she said it's not appropriate to compare the new scores with previous results because they measure different sets of expectations.

Minnesota's effort to improve teaching methods, implement tougher standards and adopt ways to measure student performance mirrors a national trend that began with President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind policy that mandated increased reliance on standardized tests. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have accepted the Common Core standards in math and reading, a framework for what students should be learning from kindergarten to high school.

Minnesota has adopted the Common Core only in reading and writing. The state already had its own, more rigorous math standards.

Under Common Core, there are specific goals for each grade level. The reading and writing standards push students to read more complex texts as they move through the grades. They also require students to demonstrate comprehension, through class discussion or writing projects.

Minnesota put the new reading and writing standards in place in 2010. They were included in this spring's Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests for the first time.

The new tests are considered more difficult because they're designed to prevent students from making educated guesses from the wording of questions. Instead, they require students to fully read and understand passages.

Given how closely parents monitor their children's performance on standardized tests, Cassellius said she decided to warn them of the expected dip.

In Kentucky, the first state to adopt the Common Core, the number of students considered proficient in reading dropped by a third when the state began testing them on the tougher standards in 2011-2012.

"This is the first year that we tested those standards. So last year's scores won't be comparable to this year's scores statistically," Cassellius wrote. "It's going to be very challenging to try to explain that to the public this fall."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.